This is the first part of a transcript from a radio interview which took
place at the end of 1979 with Bob Mishler, the founding president of
Divine Light Mission in the US.
I realise there's a lot of words here (and this is only a third of the
interview), but to anyone who's interested in the mechanics of cults, it
may provide some useful insights. It should also provide some
entertainment to anyone who, like myself and others who post here, was
once emeshed in the cult.
To give readers an idea of why I'm posting this, I joined DLM in England
in the early '70s when I was a seriously confused 19-year-old and Guru
Maharaji was just 14 and seemed to have all the answers. Like a lot of
other people, I thought he was Jesus returned. It all seemed to make a
lot of sense at the time! I gave up everything to follow the guru and
propogate his message.
I left after three or four years when the guru's mother and three
brothers returned to India in a huff following Maharaji's marriage to a
Californian belle. It seemed ridiculous then, and it seems totally
insane now. I figured that if his holy family couldn't cut it, what
chance did little ol' me have. It also didn't help that the
enlightenment promised proved easier in theory than it did in practice.
For anyone who doesn't know, the rock upon which this cult was formed
was known as the Knowledge. It consisted of four meditation techniques
which involved turning the senses inwards. The theory was (and still is)
that by practicing these techniques, you will eventually reach
enlightenment. (You won't!)
The Knowledge was supposed to be a sort of cosmic key which only the
Master could give to their disciples. Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed and all
the other great religious leaders were said to have offered the very
same techniques to their followers.
I managed to leave the guru behind, but I never quite managed to shake
off the Knowledge. And when you practice the techniques, you think,
maybe he wasn't such a bad guy after all - after all, they're damn fine
techniques. So this interview with someone who really knew Maharaji
offers a unique insight into the real person.
P.S. Mishler died in an air crash, not long after the interview.
DJ: We'll be talking about the religious cult mystique and the Divine
Light Mission. If you don't know what the Divine Light Mission is, it
is an organisation that was established by people who follow the Guru
Maharaji. He is an Indian, and he came over to this country some seven
years ago to establish his mission. In that period of time, the goals
of the Divine Light Mission have changed. The attitude of people in the
Divine Light Mission has changed and has now become something entirely
different. That difference is something that we are going to discuss
this morning with Bob Mishler. Bob, welcome to the show.
Bob Mishler: Thank you, Gary.
DJ: Let's talk a little bit about this. It started about seven years
ago, is that right?
BM: About seven and a half years ago. It was in the summer of 1971,
when he first came to the United States.
DJ: And at that time, he was fourteen years old.
BM: He was thirteen, actually.
DJ: And his brother and his mother were selling him as a perfect master.
BM: Well, yes, you could say that! At that time, he was saying that
he was the perfect master. On his first trip actually, his mother and
brother did not accompany him. He came by himself. People in the
United States got their first chance to meet them in 1972 when they came
back, and it was then apparent that they were in fact running things.
DJ: All right, let's talk about this. There was a time when he had a
large number of followers.
BM: Yes, there was a time. In fact, when he came to the United States
in 1971, you could say that this country was very ripe for that sort of
thing. In fact, I remember seeing him in Boulder in August of 1971. At
that time, every spiritual leader from anywhere in the world who
happened to come to the United States would come through Boulder. When
Maharaji came, at least 2,000 people came to see him on his very first
appearance at Mackie Auditorium in Boulder. During the course of those
few years, between 1971 and 1974, we probably initiated something
between 50 and 60,000 people in the United States in Denver.
DJ: That many in Denver?
BM: In Colorado we had a large following. In fact, in the summer of
1972 we had one programme which lasted for several days. We held it in
Montrose, Colorado, in an outdoor type thing with a stage out in a
field. At that programme alone, we initiated 2,000 people.
DJ: When the Guru first came over here, what was his message?
BM: When he first arrived, his message was that he knew the truth and
that the truth was within each and every individual. He sometimes used
to talk about that truth, whether you called it God or something else,
as the perfect energy within each individual. He said that this was
something he could reveal to everyone. That, in fact, was his purpose.
He was called a perfect master because he had mastered something that
was perfect; presumably this perfect energy inside us which was
responsible for life.
In revealing that to other people, he was revealing the only thing which
could claim to be perfection, the primordial energy of the universe. He
would essentially ask people to come to him and ask for this knowledge,
which would be freely given. The only thing that was required was the
sincerity on the part of the individual asking. If you would ask
sincerely, not just because you wanted to do it out of curiosity, but
because you really wanted to know the truth about life, then he would
have this knowledge revealed to you. Actually, he never really did any
of the initiating himself; there was always one of his disciples to do
that. These disciples at that time were called Mahatmas. In the
beginning years, they were all Indians as well.
He built himself as a humble servant of God who was essentially in
charge with the responsibility of revealing this knowledge to people by
his father who was his guru. At the same time, although there were some
people who would say, well, he has to be a god himself in order to be
able to reveal God, he would always deny this. He would say : "I make
no claims of this sort at all. What I am revealing - it is not even as
if I am giving you something - is something that is there inside you.
It is there inside everyone. By recognising it, by having it revealed
to you and then by meditating on it, you can attain the peace that comes
through knowing the truth. Once you have found peace within yourself,
this is the way towards ultimate world peace".
DJ: How did he reveal this truth?
BM: Like I said, he never really actually revealed it to anybody.
DJ: How was the truth revealed?
BM: OK, it was revealed to people in what was known as a knowledge
session. This is an initiation that takes place with one of his
disciples who has been essentially sanctioned to perform this function.
Like I said, they had a special title. They were called Mahatmas.
Presently, they call them Initiators. That was really what their
function was; to initiate new people into this practice of knowledge.
This practice of knowledge turns out to be a whole lifestyle. At the
core of it, the primary thing that was taught to people in these
initiation sessions was a form of meditation that consisted of four
techniques of concentration. These four techniques of concentration
were supposed to reveal to you the inner light, or divine light, within
your own being, and also the divine harmony, or vibration, that was
going on inside you all the time. There was supposed to be a
divine nectar which was a source of internal sustenance and an elixir of
bliss of sorts. Of course, the main thing was the primordial vibration
itself; the holy name or the word as spoken of in the Bible.
DJ: What was the elixir?
BM: The elixir was supposed to be this divine nectar.
DJ: What was it?
BM: First of all, you've got to understand that we're talking about
techniques that are actual physical techniques that you practice. The
physical technique for the nectar was a yoga movement that is performed
by inverting your tongue back into your throat. Now some critics have
said that the only nectar that is experienced that way is the post-nasal
The belief is that the physical technique is just a means of attaining
some sort of transcendental awareness, so the nectar would be something
that you couldn't really describe. You would have to experience it, and
it would be the same for the divine light and for the celestial harmony
and the primordial vibration as well.
DJ: When people first came into the Divine Light Mission, was it
originally called the Divine Light Mission or did it have another name?
BM: It was called the Divine Light Mission in India. When Maharaji came
here, there was no organisation and in fact he asked me to found the
Divine Light Mission for him here in the United States, which I did in
DJ: Were the people who got involved with the Guru from all religious
BM: That's correct.
DJ: How did you come to this?
BM: Well, my actual coming to Maharaji took place because of a former
student of mine. I had studied yoga in India in 1968, and when I came
back to the United States, I started teaching my friends to practice
yoga. It accelerated through my involvement with the Denver Free
University. During the course of teaching yoga through the Denver Free
University, I had a student named Bill Paterson. Bill had attended a
number of my yoga classes, and he decided that he wanted to go to India
to pursue his studies. We had talked about his trip before he went.
Anyway, to make a long story short, he told me that when he came back he
had joined a guru.
This was, I believe, in June 1971. He told me about this 13 year old
boy who was his guru. I thought it sounded very interesting. It
sounded as though the teachings that the guru was giving Bill were in
harmony with the Yogi tradition. He told me that his guru might in fact
come to the United States. I said that if he does, be sure and let me
know as I would like to meet him. I didn't expect that he would come so
soon, but actually he did.
He came in July. He came to Los Angeles first, and within a couple of
weeks he was in Boulder. When he came, of course Bill asked me to come.
As soon as I went there, Bill immediately showed me into the room and I
met Maharaji. I was impressed with him as he spoke with a great deal of
confidence and authority. For the most part, I felt that unlike a lot
of other Yogis who had come to the West and were essentially
commercialising the Yogi tradition in my opinion, he put no price tag on
the meditation. He used to say that you can't put a price on something
He said that something that's this important for people to have, you
have to give to everyone freely, and the only requirement is that they
be sincere in wanting to know the truth and then it will be revealed to
them. I felt that he was somebody that was sincere, and when he said
that his mission was to spread this meditation as widely as possible, I
offered to help in any way that I could.
DJ: Would it be fair to say that you became a follower of his?
BM: Yes, it would be, because in fact he was the leader, and in order to
assist him in any way, you had to be a follower.
DJ: All right. Initially, people were coming to him to receive this
knowledge. I understood that they received it in a blinding flash of
light, that there were allegations to this effect.
BM: Well, like I said, you had these initiation sessions. First of
all, you had to be selected for them. In the beginning, you would
listen to Maharaji give satsangs primarily...
BM: Excuse me - that's a group term within the Divine Light Mission.
It comes from the Hindi which roughly translated means 'company of
truth'. It's the name that's applied to the lectures that the guru would
give. In fact Satsang is something very important in the Divine Light
Mission practice of knowledge. Anyway, you would listen to him giving
his lectures - the satsangs - and you would also listen to some of his
devotees also giving these satsang lectures.
After you were convinced that it was something that you wanted to try,
and that you sincerely wanted to know, then you would make that known.
You would ask to receive knowledge and then you would be selected,
depending upon whether they thought you were ready or not, whoever they
were. They at that time were a Mahatma and one or two of the devotees
who were assisting him. As soon as you were selected, you would get to
sit in one of these initiation sessions, which sometimes lasted anywhere
from six to eight or ten hours.
DJ: OK, I have talked to people - as a matter of fact I met the Guru
Maharaji's mother and I believe that was in 1972 - and there was a
get-together that you had put together at Redrocks also. That was also
in 1972, I believe?
BM: Yes, that was in 1972.
DJ: I had the chance to be there and thought it was interesting, but
not any more interesting than anything else that I had heard. But it
was amazing to me to watch the young people who were involved, how
devoted they were and how this translated and somehow kept pace, always
within keeping of their formal religions. If they were Catholic, they
had a very Catholic view of the whole procedure. If you didn't accept
the Guru Maharaji when the light was offered to you, then you weren't
going to be saved, very much like some religions today. That whole
thing changed. How did it change?
BM: Well, I don't know whether that appeal changed really very much at
all. It's just that in the early days, Maharaji was very adamant about
how he had not come to start another religion. In fact, he felt that
what he was offering should not interfere with your present religious
beliefs at all. If anything, it should enhance them in that you would
suddenly, for the first time, really know what the Bible was talking
about because you would be experiencing it yourself.
The idea was that he was doing something that would unite all the
religions of the world. Therefore, people were encouraged to bring
their religious tradition into the Divine Light Mission. That's
probably what accounted for the thing that you were observing in the way
that people would interpret the Divine Light Mission practices in terms
of their own religious background. I think that, to a certain extent,
they would still probably tell that to people who were interested, or
trying to get interested, in the Divine Light Mission now.
In the meantime, it has become a religion in its own right. I don't
think that anybody could deny that. They have a whole body of dogma; a
complete lifestyle, a way of life which they call knowledge. It's not
simply a singular kind of experience that you translate into your
everyday life, as it was purported to be in the beginning, it's a whole
system of idol worship where you must accept the guru as God.
DJ: Today, what they are saying is that the Guru is the reincarnation of
God. He is God. He is not simply a messenger; he is, as the
Christians, or other religions would say, a Messiah. In the Christian
sense, he is like Jesus.
BM: I think that would be pretty much what they would say. He is an
embodiment of that power, and that power is God. That's what we have
come to know as God. In India, you have some people argue with you for
a long time saying, "no, no, no, he is greater than God". For us, that
loses value in that we tend to interpret the word God as being that
which is all-powerful. That's how they see him, as an embodiment of
that all-powerful force which created and sustains and enlightens all
DJ: What happened as you saw these changes taking place in the Divine
Light Mission, and really the embodiment of what the Guru represented
changing? How did that affect you?
BM: Well, it was a little bit more complex for me in terms of the
changes I went through during that period myself. In general, it
affected me in that I felt that we had a responsibility to be what we
purported ourselves to be. To change it into something else was not
something that I agreed with. Ultimately, my disagreement with
Maharaji, particularly on this basis, led to my resignation.
During a large part of the period that I was involved, I essentially
went along the prevailing belief structure. Whether Guru Maharaji was
God or not really wasn't important. The important thing was that if you
were devoted to him, you followed him absolutely. Whatever he said,
even if it didn't make sense to you, you would find a way to make sense
of it. I used to do that myself as well. I certainly did that a great
deal for the devotees as well. I was one of the major spokespeople of
DJ: The People's Temple hit the news a while back with a mass suicide,
among other things. Shortly after that information hit us through the
media, you made some statements regarding the Divine Light Mission and
some of the practices of it which you felt corresponded to the People's
Temple. Could you tell us about that?
BM: Yes. First of all, let me explain my reasoning there. When I left
the Divine Light Mission in 1977, I felt that I personally couldn't
agree with what the Guru was doing. I had come to that conclusion
probably a year and a half before that. I never really lived with the
Guru except that I travelled in the same circle as him. I never really
lived with him or became the kind of personal confidante that I was to
him until after he split with his family.
There was a period during 1974 when there was an outright war, really,
in the Divine Light Mission, between his mother and elder brother, whom
you met. Maharaji took control of the mission. During this time, he
began to rely on me very heavily, and then after that I lived with him.
In living with him, I began to see a lot of the excesses in the
devotion and practices that I felt were detrimental to the spiritual
development of the devotees.
I had attributed these to his mother and brother, and with them out of
the way, that didn't necessarily need to be the case any longer. This
was in my opinion, at least, as I had always found Maharaji to be very
sincere and reasonable. In fact, during that period, we did decide to
make some changes. At the beginning, well, around the end of 1975, we
started what I would call a major change of emphasis in the Divine Light
This was something that Maharaji and I arrived at as being necessary not
only for the devotees but also for his own welfare as well. That was to
change this belief that he was God, by actually coming out and denying
it, and by taking some responsibility to de-programme our own membership
away from this belief. This was so that he wouldn't become the kind of
cult leader that in fact he has become today.
About half way through 1976, Maharaji got very insecure about what was
going to happen to him if we continued with this. He realised that he
was going to lose his automatic hold over the devotees that he had had
up until that point.
DJ: Was this a conscious thing on his part?
BM: Oh, yes. This was a very conscious thing. We discussed it, and we
outlined all the different perspectives that would be involved. At the
time, what I had planned for him and with him, and up to the middle of
1976 he was largely agreeing with, was to use a lot of the money that
had come to him in the form of gifts from his followers, to set up some
investments. This would enable him to become financially independent
from the continued support of the devotees.
He had grown accustomed to a very luxurious lifestyle. A lot of the
necessity of keeping the members believing that he was God was to ensure
that they would continue to support him in this lifestyle. If it meant
that he was going to have to make any sacrifices in this lifestyle (and
it had become apparent by the middle of 1976 that this was going to be
the case) then he didn't really want to have to do that.
That's where we came to a parting of the ways, so to speak. As a result
of that, I just left, because I recognised that I couldn't change him.
If he wanted to change on his own, then that was something I was very
willing to assist with. If he wasn't going to change, then I certainly
wasn't going to continue to stay while he turned what was originally a
mission to spread meditation to people freely into something that
solicited donations to do this type of work and had all of its funds
essentially going to support his luxurious lifestyle.
So I resigned from the Divine Light Mission in January 1977, but for the
last month or so of 1976 I really wasn't involved. It was understood
that I was resigning. I didn't say anything, because at the time, I
felt that a lot of the things that I knew really wouldn't be that well
received. I had been the head of the Mission, after all, during that
whole period, and people had all sorts of different conceptions about
me. Really, I didn't feel that it was of any interest to people other
than the present members, and most of them really didn't want to know
the kind of things that I knew.
After that incident in Guyana there were just so many striking
similarities between what had happened with the People's Temple group
and how it had changed over the years and the kind of psychological
deterioration that Reverend Jones had purportedly gone through. The
whole belief structure, this separate reality that they existed in...
DJ: His people...did they go through a suicide provision?
BM: No, I don't mean that there actually was a suicide pact or anything
like that. What I meant was that this kind of belief, absolute power
and control in one person, and belief that no matter what this person
says, it must be obeyed. That kind of power, the impact that power has,
even on the person who has it. The kind of corrupting influence that
kind of power over others has on an individual.
I'd see Maharaji go through a tremendous psychological deterioration
during the time that I lived with him. These things were, I felt, his
private affairs on one level; I also felt that the premis' beliefs were
their own private affairs on another level.
DJ: What is a premi?
BM: A premi is a name for a member of the Divine Light Mission. That
comes from the Hindi word prem which means love. Premi roughly is
someone who is a lover of God, Guru Maharaji, whatever you want to say.
A lover of truth. Anyway, I made this statement, and the reason I made
it was that I felt that there was a lot that needed to be pointed out.
These were things that were deliberately hidden from the members of the
members of the Divine Light Mission.
DJ: How did he take advantage of his position other than simply to
acquire some fairly worldly goods?
BM: Well, taking advantage is a matter of interpretation. I know that
any criticism you make of Guru Maharaji can be rationalised by his very
devoted followers, simply because they give all matter of licence to him
in that if he is God, well , he can do anything.
That means that, to my own way of thinking, it is very hypocritical to
teach one lifestyle as a means of fulfilment to people, as a spiritual
truth, and then live entirely opposite to that yourself. That becomes
even more hypocritical, when in fact you don't just do the opposite, but
you also make a great deal of effort and take a great deal of care in
making sure that nobody knows this either.
DJ: There were rumours, and I don't know whether these rumours were
based on any kind of fact or not, that he took advantage of several
young women who were members of the Divine Light Mission, because of his
position. To your knowledge, is any of that true?
BM: No, to my knowledge, that's not true. Although it was true that a
number of his Mahatmas did that, and we had a number of problems with
someof the Mahatmas on that level, I am not aware of Maharaji taking
advantage of women followers.
DJ: Is the Maharaji a rich man today?
BM: I don't know what his personal worth is, but you would have to say
that he is a rich man. That might sound a bit ambiguous, but his whole
financial condition is a bit ambiguous, because he has so much of his
wealth being provided for him by the Church.
He has a great deal of income that comes to him in the tax-free form of
gifts from his followers. How he uses that; well, when I was there, he
was spending it. It was just amazing how much money he could spend.
DJ: He has several sports cars, I understand, I mean people gave him
BM: Yes, and he also had the Divine Light Mission buy him things.
Whenever he wanted something, it really didn't matter whether we had the
money for it or not. We were to get it, somehow or another.
DJ: I remember when he bought a Mercedes. There was a lot of flak about
BM: Yes, well, by the time I left, he must have had at least three
Mercedes, a couple of Rolls Royces, and least three or four other
luxurious automobiles in the 30 or 40,000 dollar range. I mean, it
wasn't just a question of having one, he had a whole fleet.
DJ: How do the members of the Divine Light Mission see you today? Do
they see you as a Judas?
BM: Well, I suppose you would have to ask them. They have a special
name for someone like me which, I guess is a sort of a Judas. The call
it a Munmat. That is someone who has become anti-Guru. I think that
with the exception of a few, and it really is just a few, of the present
members who still believe in Guru Maharaji who have had the courage to
talk to me and still relate to me, most of them are really afraid to
talk to me. This is because I'm seen as someone who is completely in
The mind is a very dangerous thing to a premi. That's symbolic of
everything that makes you doubt the truth which Guru Maharaji has
revealed to you. In fact, he has even commanded his following never to
allow any room for doubt in their minds. They are supposed to control
their minds through the practice of meditation. So, to talk to someone
like myself, who is completely in the mind, supposedly, would be a very
dangerous thing to do, because I could confuse them.
...End of part 1. A phone-in follows which contains a lot of waffle but
some entertaining stuff about how the guru's mother tried and failed to
get the eldest son crowned in Maharaji's place and how he ended up
prefering the bottle to meditation. I'll try and post the rest tomorrow
(if the curse of the guru doesn't get me first).